A Neighborhood Valentine

“Neighborhood is a word that has come to sound like Valentine. As a sentimental concept, “neighborhood” is harmful to city planning. It leads to attempts at warping city life into imitations of town or suburban life. Sentimentality plays with sweet intentions in place of good sense.”

-Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

February 14, 2012: It’s not often I disagree with Jane Jacobs, the godmother of urban planning. But I take issue with the notion that getting sentimental about our city neighborhoods is a bad thing. An emotional connection to these places does not oversimplify them or make them more provincial. We wouldn’t live here if that’s what we were after. The qualities we love (yes, love) most about these city neighborhoods are the very qualities that make them urban.

Jacobs’ broader argument makes sense. She expounds on her Valentine statement to say there is danger in oversimplifying the neighborhood unit as “supposedly cozy,” “introverted,” and “self-contained.” She says a successful city neighborhood is much more complicated. The success of a city neighborhood is intricately and economically tied to the vitality of a much larger and more complex city. Our city neighborhoods attract residents in large part due to the draw of the city beyond them. People live here because they are compelled by access to urban opportunities and amenities and diversity and movement and culture. Urban neighborhoods are fluid; people continuously move in and out. They are not always, day in and day out, places where everybody knows your name.

I understand the need to take the hard-nosed, practical line. I get what Jacobs means when she says the death of our cities would come from parceling their neighborhoods off into little towns of their own. But I say get sentimental about it. Declare your love for your corner of the city. A little emotion can go a long way.

“We need to be reminded of what it means to have a relationship with a place. To help us fall in love with our cities again, we need to see others who are in love with their communities. These people are a rare breed, and, I believe, critical to the overall love of their places.”

-Peter Kageyama, For The Love of Cities

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One thought on “A Neighborhood Valentine

  1. Deep ost. Woke to a discussion like this on the radio this morning. I would suggest that people could love different variables – I love living in my city, yet find my neighborhood lacking. Namely as there is no sense of neighborhood. Would I move – not likely. I like when I am in the city. My community outside my neighborhood is what matters most to me! It is am active community of cyclists and skiers – part of what attracts me to my city! I have lived in a number of places, still proud to call Canada and Ottawa home!

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